August 22, 2022 11:33 AM EDT

Unlike the sprawling Game of Thrones, House of the Dragon has a much narrower focus. Instead of jumping between different clans, the prequel series centers on the members of a single family vying for the Iron Throne. Nearly 200 years before Game of Thrones, King Viserys Targaryen (Paddy Considine) must choose among his potential heirs: His daughter Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock and Emma D’Arcy, playing her at different stages in life), his brother Daemon (Matt Smith), and whatever son he might yet produce.

But another family plays a prominent role in the HBO drama: The Hightower clan.

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The Hightower family’s seat is located in Oldtown, home to the Citadel where the maesters study. The family did not play a huge role on Game of Thrones, though Margaery Tyrell, the daughter of Mace Tyrell and Alerie Hightower, is a descendent of the Hightowers on her mother’s side. Margaery, of course, briefly held the role of queen consort when she married King Tommen Baratheon. But Tommen’s power-hungry mother Cersei blew Margaery up along with Margaery’s brother and father in the explosion of the Sept.

But the Hightowers had a much more active role in the Red Keep early on in the Targaryen dynasty. When Aegon the Conqueror first united the Seven Kingdoms, the Hightower family was quick to bend the knee to their new dragon-riding king and became regulars at court.

In the first episode of House of the Dragon, we meet Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), hand to King Viserys. Otto was a knight who served as hand to Viserys’ grandfather, Jaehaerys Targaryen, after Jaeherys’ son (and Viserys’ father) Baelon Targaryen died. Jaehaerys was known for ruling over a peaceful kingdom while building roads, sewage, and other crucial infrastructure.

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While Viserys is not a bad king, he certainly is not living up to the legend of Jaeherys. But Viserys has inherited Otto as hand and seems to value Otto’s loyalty to the Targaryen family.

And yet like every other hand we’ve ever met—except, perhaps, the noble and naive Ned Stark—Otto clearly has his own agenda. He often undermines Viserys’ brother Daemon (Matt Smith), calling him unstable and unfit for the Iron Throne. (In all fairness, Daemon does seem to be a bit of a psychopath.)

He also tries to undercut Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint), the Sea Snake, in a conversation about threats to Corlys’ trade routes on the sea. The Velaryons have close ties to the Targaryens. Both families trace their lines back to the grand city of Valyria. (And both families left Valyria before its apocalyptic destruction.) By seizing opportunities to weaken Corlys, Otto ensures his role as the king’s key advisor.

Otto is also an opportunist. In the first episode of the show, Viserys’ wife Aemma (Sian Brooke) gives birth to a son in an excessively bloody scene that ends in the death of both mother and child. Viserys is left bereft, and Otto conveniently steps in to help him make decisions.

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Otto may also be using his daughter, Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey and Olivia Cooke, playing her at different stages in life), as a pawn in this show’s version of the game of thrones. Alicent begins the show as the best friend of Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen. But when Aemma dies, Otto sends Alicent to Viserys’ chambers to “comfort” him, heavily implying that Alicent ought to try to earn the king’s affections so he might become dependent on her. When it comes time for him to remarry and try to produce another male heir, perhaps Viserys will make Alicent queen.

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Write to Eliana Dockterman at eliana.dockterman@time.com.

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